Death on the Nile: Knives Out for Branagh’s Lavish but Hollowed-out Poirot Tale
Death on the Nile (M, 127mins) Directed by Kenneth Branagh **½
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the toast of London.
Feted by crowds, even a simple evening at a jazz club is marked by an offer of a dessert on the menu. But, as he settles into his petit fours and the musical stylings of Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), the Belgian sleuth witnesses the sweaty courtship of Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) .
After the pair dance up a storm, she is greeted by her former classmate, heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). It is clear that this is not a chance encounter. Jacqueline wants to show off her “tall, stern, brash, beautifully simple man” and persuade Linnet to give him a job. As Poirot takes his leave, the deal seems to be done and Simon and Linnet celebrate by going to the dance floor themselves.
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Six weeks later, our eccentric crime solver is enjoying tea, jaffa cakes and the pyramids of Giza when a kite-flying fool ruins his serenity. It turns out to be former Orient Express owner Bouc (Tom Bateman) and, delighted to see his old friend again, he invites Poirot to join him and his mother Euphemia (Annette Bening) at a local hotel. where they help celebrate the newlyweds.
As he drinks in opulence, while trying to avoid wine, he sees familiar faces. Salome once again provides the entertainment, while Linnet is the one in white. Her husband, however, is more of a surprise – Simon Doyle.
To add to the drama, his self-effacing speech is interrupted by the arrival of a clearly unhappy Jacqueline. Turns out she follows the couple’s every step, seething silently in their presence. When Poirot asks Linnet if she sees her as a threat, her response is somewhat chilling. “I know Jacqui – she always settles her scores.”
It is at this point that Poirot suggests that she and Simon cut their honeymoon short, but instead they opt for a change of plans, taking their group and entourage on a ship – the Karnak. Aboard this Nile cruise are Linnet’s former admirer Dr Windlesham (Russell Brand), his current assistant Louise (Rose Leslie), godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) and nurse Bowers (Dawn French ), cousin and family lawyer Andrew (Ali Fazal), and Salome’s daughter, Rosalie (Letitia Wright).
However, even as they walk away from particular issues, Linnet admits to Poirot that she is still on edge. “Whenever you have money, no one is really your friend. I don’t feel safe with any of them.
It is a confession that turns out to be terribly prophetic.
Like the final 1978 film version of Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel and Poirot de Branagh’s previous release in 2017 Murder on the Orient Expressit’s an opulent affair, featuring a star-studded ensemble seemingly reveling in their over-the-top performances of quirky characters.
But while Peter Ustinov’s Poirot (in his first of six outings in the role) was up against Mia Farrow, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, David Niven, Olivia Hussey and, yes, Jessica Fletcher herself Angela Lansbury, here we have a a much more ethnically diverse cast, though the rest of the ensemble plays second fiddle a lot to both Gadot and Poirot de Branagh.
Aided by returning screenwriter Michael Green, Branagh essentially cut the number of suspects aboard the Karnak in half, taking much longer to set the scene, make connections with his Orient-Express out and dive into Poriot’s own psyche. A lengthy World War I prologue establishes how he got his handlebar mustache and mistrust for love, but it all feels like little Bond villain backstory, rather than essential to the audience’s enjoyment of the movie. story. I think I would have preferred that he spent more time fully fleshing out potential writers.
That said, there is no doubt Nile it looks superb. The costumes are top notch, the production design fabulous and filming in 65mm, Branagh’s regular cinematographer, Cypriot Haris Zambarloukos really adds a lushness and grandeur to the tale.
Behind the glorious facade, the facial mushrooms and the flamboyant speeches, Nile feels like a useful crime drama rather than a spectacular one. Missing At loggerheads flair, sense of fun and familial disgust is more Downton Abbey-meets-Midsomer Murders, that something really memorable.
Death on the Nile is now showing in theaters nationwide.